Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



By Dorr G. Yeager

Principle of Labeling:

The label by the trailside transforms an ordinary mountain trail into so-called nature trail, the features of which can be interpreted by the tourist. It is, therefore, of vital importance that the labels should perform their function well. In the first place, the label on the nature trail, as in a museum, interprets and tells a story about an exhibit. Certain principles must be carried out if the trail is to be a success. First of all the exhibits should be picked about which a label can tell a story. This is a simple task as there is very little on a nature trail that does not have a story. The labels should be so worded as to create interest and lead the visitor on. In many cases it is a good example to ask a question in one label and answer it in the next. This tends to lead the visitor farther and farther along the trail. The labels should be long enough to convey the story, but short enough not to tire the visitor. Nothing dismays a visitor more than to be confronted with a mass of long labels or signs. The letters should be large enough to be easily read at a short distance. Caution should be used in the number of signs placed on the trail. They should cover the material thoroughly but it should be kept in mind that the visitor is interested in nature, not signs. The trail should not, therefore, be “plastered” with signs.

What Shall be Labeled?

This is a very important point as it is tempting to label everything on the trail and so make a lane in the woods bordered by signs. The pertinent things should be labeled. Each species of tree, for example, should be labeled but it is not necessary to place the name on each Douglas Fir on the trail. It is advisable, however, to repeat in some way the name of the tree two or three times. This may be done by bringing in the name or asking the question “What tree is this? You have seen others like it on the trail.” Naturally important pieces of nature lore should receive attention such as squirrel middens, woodpecker holes, bear beds, claw marks on trees, etc. The most important flowers on the trail should be labeled. It is, however, impossible to keep each flower labeled through the summer unless one man is available for frequent work on the trail. It is important that these flower labels receive the strictest attention as the visitor will lose faith if a label for gentians is present and the gentians have disappeared. It is not necessary to confine attentions to objects directly on the trail. A system which has worked well in Yellowstone is that of running strings out to objects off the trail which might be missed by the casual passer-by. Many interesting features are to be found 50 feet from the trail such as nests and these may well be included in the trail itself. Different geological formations can be labeled to good advantage and lend well to treatment. It is not so easy to label birds and animals although this too may be done to a certain extent. For example, if marmots or woodrats are usually seen at a certain point in the trail it is well to construct a sign to that effect. The matter of what should receive attention on the trail is largely one that is up to the park naturalist himself. Sufficient material should receive attention that the visitor, upon completing the trip, has received a well-rounded variety of subjects which have included those things of prime importance on and near his route.